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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 16978

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Electronic Source

Edwards J
Millions Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attacks Based on a Typo; 'Immodest' Bayer Site Not Helping
BNet 2009 Dec 11

Full text:

Millions of people are needlessly popping an aspirin every day in the false belief that it will ward off heart attacks and strokes, according to HeartWire. In part, beliefs about the cardiovascular power of aspirin may have been spurred by a typo in an influential 2002 BMJ paper which originally said “daily aspirin may well be appropriate.” That final word should have been “inappropriate.” A correction was made, but not before the media began reporting on the heart-healthy benefits of daily aspirin.

HeartWire notes:

… a steady stream of studies have warned against aspirin use in some of the key primary-prevention populations, including patients with asymptomatic atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and peripheral artery disease.

Most striking of all was the May 2009 meta-analysis, … The Lancet paper found that while aspirin used for primary prevention may reduce the risk of nonfatal ischemic events, these benefits are offset by higher bleeding, leaving no net effect on vascular mortality.

Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Clinic La Jolla, Calif., adds:

… now there are, just in this country alone, literally tens of millions of people taking low-dose aspirin that probably there is no basis for.

… It’s really become kind of a consumer norm. As an outgrowth of the BMJ study in particular, aspirin has been advocated widely in the media. It’s not just the cardiologists and family doctors who are making recommendations, it’s magazines and newspapers and websites. It’s all over the place.”

The 2002 BMJ article, as originally printed, argued for some heart benefits of aspirin but not for all patients. It said, including the typo:

For most healthy individuals, however, for whom the risk of a vascular event is likely to be substantially less than 1% a year, daily aspirin may well be appropriate.” A correction swiftly issued by the BMJ noted that final word should, in fact, be inappropriate.

HeartWire also calls out Bayer (BAY.DE)’s web site for aspirin, which it calls “an immodest homepage for a drug that, at least in the primary-prevention arena, has weathered a less-than-wonderful year.” The site is indeed over the top and perhaps should be examined by the FDA for accuracy. Among the headlines:

“Expect Wonders”
“Heart Health Advantage”
“You Can Do More to Protect Your Heart!”
The site says aspirin can prevent stroke and heart attack, describing it as a “miracle drug.” It continues, “Aspirin has unsurpassed ability to fight pain and, used under a doctor’s care, can treat inflammation.” Unsurpassed? really? “Plus, it is the only analgesic that can help save your life when taken as directed by a doctor during a suspected heart attack.”

Bayer has a history of mismarketing aspirin. In October 2008 the FDA cited Bayer for marketing unapproved aspirin drugs, one of which was Bayer Aspirin With Heart Advantage.


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Email a Friend influence multinational corporations effectively, the efforts of governments will have to be complemented by others, notably the many voluntary organisations that have shown they can effectively represent society’s public-health interests…
A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.